I admit it: I sometimes grow weary of hearing about all the challenges faced by pastors and pastors’ wives and pastors’ kids. Is a pastor’s vocation really so different from any other? Can it really be such a challenge to the rest of his family? Could it be that pastors are just a little too sensitive about the whole thing?
I haven’t been a pastor long enough to speak with a whole lot of authority. But a few years into this life, I can at least vouch that a pastor’s family does face a number of unique challenges, challenges that are different from those faced by a small business owner or salaried employee. (I have been both.) Pastoral ministry is a difficult calling not just for a man, but for his whole family.
Brian Croft has a burden for practical matters of pastoral ministry and writes often atpracticalshepherding.com. He has teamed up with his wife to Cara to write The Pastor’s Family. This is a book that calls a pastor to the task of shepherding his family through the challenges of pastoral ministry.
It took only a few pages for the book to help me grasp something that should be obvious but that had largely escaped me until now. Much of what makes a pastor’s challenge unique as he shepherds his family does not come from the church but from his own heart. In the chapter titled simply “The Problem,” Croft shows that pastors face internal demands of approval, appearance, success, and much besides. These are expectations the pastor places upon himself and they can soon come to control him and to dominate his decision-making. The demands soon become idols, things that hold out the promise of satisfaction and significance. Soon a man will sacrifice his family and neglect their care in order to pursue satisfaction. “The problem rests not in the demands and pressures we face but in how we create idols out of those demands, idols that lead us to neglect our family and dishonor God.”
The solution is to better understand, appreciate and apply the good news of what Christ has accomplished, and to understand that our significance is found in him. “Struggling pastors need to rely on two facets of the biblical gospel is they hope to experience its power: they need to own their sin, acknowledging their neglect and failure, and they need to rely on the grace Christ offers, trusting in the gifts and promises of God rather than in their own efforts to secure what they want and need.”
With the foundation laid, the Crofts go on to write several chapters about the pastor’s wife and the pastor’s family. In most cases Brian writes the chapter with Cara adding comments here and there; in two cases, though, Cara leads the way and leaves Brian to add his comments. It is quite an effective format that accomplishes two things: it adds a woman’s perspective and wisdom and it also makes the book more applicable to a pastor’s wife. The Crofts strike a good balance between the descriptive and the prescriptive, between what the Bible commands and wise applications of that truth. They open up their church, their home and their family just enough to give us a glimpse of principles in action.
There are a few parts of the book that were especially helpful to me: the section on serving, encouraging and discipling your wife; the section on praying with and for your wife; the practical instructions for individually discipling your children; and the two chapters written by Cara, since they helped me better understand the challenges my wife does face or may soon face.
All throughout the history of the church there have been pastors—and you may well know some of them—who have sacrificed their families on the altar of ministry. Too many neglected wives and forsaken children can testify to men who time and time again chose ministry in place of family. Every pastor can testify to the power of this temptation, which is exactly why there is such an urgent need for The Pastor’s Family. This book challenges pastors to care first and best for their wives and children and it carefully draws upon biblical wisdom to allow them to do that very thing. It is a book I intend to read with Aileen and one I heartily recommend to every pastor.
The Pastor’s Family is available at Amazon.
Christians differ in their attitudes toward alcohol. Some Christians believe that we have freedom to consume alcohol in moderation. Others hold that the Bible forbids all consumption of alcohol or that, even in the absence of a clear command to abstain, it is so dangerous and so likely to lead to addiction, that it is downright foolish to drink. Regardless, all Christians hold that drunkenness is a sin and that this sin relates to the loss of control. A drunken man loses his sense and his self-control. As Solomon says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.”
On Monday I attempted to anticipate some of the cost to the church if young Christian men continue to spend their youth embroiled in the pursuit of pornography. Solomon warns that pornography is sapping them of their strength. In their strongest and most energetic years, in the years when so many promises and possibilities lie open before them, they are giving it all away to pornography. It saps them of strength and it saps them of life.
In that same passage Solomon asks, “Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” He describes this sexual captivity as a kind of intoxication, a form of drunkenness. Do not give up self-control and throw yourself into the arms of another woman, whether those arms are real or simply pixels on a computer screen. Do not invest your strength where it will be wasted. That is the very height of stupidity.
But it is not only illicit sex that is intoxicating. The same Solomon who would forbid getting drunk on wine or strong drink, and the same Solomon who would describe the stupidity of getting drunk on illicit sex, would command a different kind of intoxication. “Rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love (Proverbs 5:19).”
He does not criticize or downplay the presence of sexual desire and the longing to find sexual fulfillment. Rather, he admits it, celebrates it, and shows that to direct that energy toward adultery, fornication or pornography is to completely misuse it. His solution is simple: Put your sexual desire to the best use of all. “Rejoice in the wife of your youth…be intoxicated always in her love.” Donald Spence-Jones interprets this way: “The teacher, by a bold figure, describes the entire fascination which the husband is to allow the wife to exercise over him.”
Go ahead and lose control. Go ahead and get intoxicated, but get drunk in the love and passionate pursuit of your wife. What wine does to your body, let your wife do to your affections and desires. Let her captivate you. Let her fascinate you. Let her have that kind of power over you, that kind of control, that kind of ownership. Be addicted to her. When you are with her, when you are in her arms, let yourself go and just enjoy God’s good gift of sexual pleasure. Jim Newheiser says it well: “The man who has to look away from all the other female breasts put on display in our culture can freely enjoy his wife’s breasts. The wife may delight in being desired and being overwhelmed by the love of her husband. Their sexual thirst can be quenched in a way that pleases God.”
Pornography, adultery, fornication and all other sexual sin distort a good desire for a bad use. By its very nature this desire was intended to be intoxicating. That intoxication delights God, and is meant to delight us, when it is directed to the pursuit of marital intimacy. So go ahead and drink—drink of the love of your wife. Go ahead and drink to intoxication—get drunk in her love. But do not drink, and do not get drunk, in any other love.
For months now the question has been in front of me. It has been there in the document I open every day, the document that contains a list of articles to write, and questions to explore. "What will be the cost to the church if young men continue to give themselves to pornography?" What do we, as Christians, stand to lose if so many of our young men continue to spend their teens and twenties in the pursuit of pornographic pleasure?
The question has been on my mind all the more as I've begun to scope out a teaching series in Proverbs. Proverbs warns us at many times and in many ways of the "forbidden woman." This is the woman whose lips drip honey, whose speech is smoother than oil. She is attractive and alluring; she knows just what to say and just what to offer to draw young men after her. And so they follow along behind her, oblivious to the fact that they are following her straight to foolishness, straight to harm, straight to hell.
In days gone by this woman may have been an adulteress or a prostitute. Today she takes the form of pornography. She is calling out to young men, she is offering herself to them, she is displaying all the pleasures she can offer, and they are following along. The Bible is honest and forthright about the cost (Proverbs 5:7-14):
Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.
Solomon says that the young man who follows the forbidden woman gives away his honor and his time, he loses his strength and his labor, and he even calls for consequences to his flesh and body. Ultimately, he calls down public humiliation and divine judgment upon himself. I have been considering one of these more than the others: strength.
We have the better part of a generation of young men who are giving their strength to this forbidden woman.
She is consuming their time and their strength. And this is not just any time and strength. Near the end of his life, at the conclusion to the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon would say, "Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth." He would go on to extol these days of youth, these days when energy is high, when possibilities are endless, when there is joy and excitement and ambition. These days are unique and irreplaceable. Solomon calls on young men to "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth." God wants thesedays, your best days, not only what is left over once you have had your fun and pursued all manner of false pleasure.
If we take Ecclesiastes 11 and 12 and hold it side-by-side with Proverbs 5, this is Solomon's message to young men: You will never have greater strength than you do now. You will never have more energy, more ready ability to find excitement and motivation. You will never be less encumbered by the cares of life or the responsibilities of family. God has given you these days and equipped you with strength and energy to live them well and to his glory. God gives you strength, he gives you passion, he gives you enthusiasm, he gives you the desire to pursue joy. So why would you use that God-given strength, that God-given passion, that God-given enthusiasm to pursue the worst, the most vile, the most fleeting joy of all? Why are you giving your strength to her instead of to Him?
What will be the cost to the church if young men continue to give themselves to pornography? The church will be weakened by young men who give so many of their best days to the worst purpose. The church will be weakened by future leaders who set themselves back by years or even decades by deliberately pursuing an addiction that consumes them. The church will be weakened by men who could be leaders, but who pursue pornography and never escape its clutches. The church will be weakened as an entire generation of young men burden their pastors with constant counseling to escape a sin they wanted to pursue and an addiction they chose for themselves. The church will be weakened by families that are unstable because the husband has brought his love of pornography into his marriage. How many men could be serving in ministries, could be pastoring churches, could be training to preach, could be planting churches, except that they have given their strength to another? The cost is high. The consequences are fearsome.
Young man: The forbidden woman saps your strength. She steals it and never gives it back. Your pursuit of personal, pornographic pleasure harms the whole church. It harms your local congregation, and it harms the global church. We need your strength. We need your energy and enthusiasm. We need you now, not only what is left over after you've tried everything else and found it wanting. If you love Christ and you love his church, then for his sake and ours, you will put this sin to death.
(Note: Here is something else to consider: How much better is it to reject sexual sin, to pursue sexual integrity, and to find a wife who does not sap your strength, but who gives you strength?)
Self-salvation is sinful man’s most natural inclination. We all know there is something wrong with us, that we are not all we want to be and not all we were meant to be. And left to ourselves we look for that salvation anywhere and everywhere except in the place it can be found—in Jesus Christ.
I recently came upon a great illustration of this in the life of Benjamin Franklin. Come Christmas or birthdays or other occasions, I love to buy my parents biographies; they are adept at finding the most fascinating facts and anecdotes and it was my mother who dug this one up in Walter Isaacson’s life of Franklin.
Franklin was a Deist. He held to the existence of some kind of higher power, but believed that this God had created and then retreated, that he was not personally present in the world. If this is the case, all we can know about divinity and humanity will be revealed through nature and reason. Franklin had no use for Scripture or worship and certainly no use for Jesus Christ beyond personal example.
Franklin believed “The most acceptable service to God is doing good to man.” Yet when he was still young he “came to the conclusion that a simple and complacent deism had its own set of drawbacks. He had converted Collins and Ralph [two friends] to deism, and they soon wronged him without moral compunction.” He began to see that Deism accounted for the existence of a God, but not an ethic that would transform behavior. He wanted to better himself and do good to man, so systematized his approach.
On the pages of a little notebook, he made a chart with seven red columns for the days of the week and thirteen rows labeled with his virtues. Infractions were marked with a black spot. The first week he focused on temperance, trying to keep that line clear while not worrying about the other lines. With that virtue strengthened, he could turn his attention to the next one, silence, hoping that the temperance line would stay clear as well. In the course of the year, he would complete the thirteen-week cycle four times.
He wanted to improve himself, wanted to be good. He was willing to admit fault with himself, rather a rare trait, and to work to improve those shortcomings. And so he arrived at a orderly way of pursuing his goal. He would identify and quantify his faults in order to grow in virtue.
What was the result? It was the result any honest man would come to. “I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined.” His honesty and consistency conspired to leave little doubt of his propensity toward outbursts and, therefore, away from the temperance he desired. A year would not be nearly enough to see substantial advances. “In fact, his notebook became filled with holes as he erased the marks in order to reuse the pages.”
Franklin is describing a universal experience here: the experience of frustration and despair. We can almost hear his echo of the Apostle Paul who, centuries earlier, had written, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” and “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” In his despair Paul cried out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
His question found an immediate answer. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul’s despair was met in Jesus Christ. Paul could not be good on his own, so he looked for help outside himself. The solution would be extrinsic, not intrinsic. Jesus Christ had been good for him and could now be good through him.
But Franklin admitted no Savior, no God who was personally present in his world, so he had no choice but to look within and to continue his efforts. With his notebook full of holes, rubbed through by all these evidences of his depravity and inability, he bore down all the more. “He transferred his charts to ivory tablets that could more easily be wiped clean.”
When his efforts led to failure, he simply redoubled his failing efforts. He might wipe those tablets clean, but they too would do nothing more than highlight his inability to wipe himself clean. His efforts at self-salvation would ultimately, inevitably prove futile.